A hapless and clueless movie critic finds himself trapped in a self-help group for serial killers in Shudder’s latest original
Vicious Fun, the latest horror hit from writer and director Cody Calahan, is one of those rare movies that actually lives up to its title for the most part. Soaked in 80s neon colors and backed by a synth heavy score from Steph Copeland, Vicious Fun is a blood-splattered and comedic homage to slasher films of old, one with a sharp wit and a cast that’s more than game for the gory shenanigans.
Appropriately set in the 80s, the film follows an enthusiastic but socially awkward movie critic named Joel (Evan Marsh). Joel has a bit of motormouth and he can’t help but prattle on and on about his thoughts on movies – particularly the slashers of the time – while interviewing disengaged directors for his magazine, Vicious Fanatics. He may not mean to, but some of his opinions (like how everyone in slashers act like morons or how the killers always walk slowly yet somehow still catch up) can cause offense. That poor reading of social cues carries over to his interactions with his roomate, Sarah (Alexa Rose Steele), who he has feelings for but can’t ever own up to it.
One eventful evening, Joel winds up at a bar where he makes friends with a charming but mysterious man named Bob (Ari Millen). In what is likely the first time Joel has ever socialized in such a place, he has a bit (a lot) too much to drink, and after vomiting on a steely-eyed woman named Carrie (Amber Goldfarb), he passes out in a closet. By the time he comes to, the bar has been closed, but a small batch of people remain seated in a circle. Poor Joel has found himself stumbling into a self-help group, but not a typical one – the five people meeting here are all serial killers.
It’s a pretty amusing setup: Joel is forced to try and blend in with these seasoned murderers, which include a meticulous older man who dresses like a clown (Julian Richings) before injecting his victims with a needle to paralyze them, a giant hulking coed killer named Mike (Robert Maillet), and a cunning cannibal named Hideo (Sean Baek). The proceedings are led by a former government assassin called Zachary (David Koechner), who has everyone take turns in sharing their feelings on taking lives. Joel hilariously makes up a story about how he’s a taxi driver who kills his passengers, the logic of which gets harder and harder to defend the more questions he’s asked.
Vicious Fun’s ensemble cast is its greatest strength. The eclectic gang of tropey slasher villains are having a blast, particularly as their personalities clash and they begin to bicker, and Marsh’s nervous energy helps set the comedic rhythm for scenes. It’s a funny movie, and even though some of the jokes can be seen coming from a mile away, some clever deliveries still help them land. It also never forgets its horror half; there are still plenty of enjoyable and impressively gruesome kills to be found, especially once Joel teams up with Carrie to survive the night together and take out the killers.
The film feels like it loses some of its momentum once everyone leaves the bar. As it falls back on familiar slasher scenarios and loses sight of its cool concept, it becomes difficult to say what exactly it has to say about the genre its taking part in. Joel’s personal story is about taking more of an active role in life, which he learns as he’s put in quite a lively situation, but his other plot involving Sarah feels left undercooked by the time the film ends, despite her having her own moment to shine. The group of serial killers are also, strangely, introduced twice – just one example of how the film’s pacing sometimes struggles to justify it’s hour and forty minute runtime.
But Vicious Fun is still a vibrant and witty addition to Shudder’s extensive catalogue of horror, and it teases the potential for sequels which could easily be even better. A chance to flesh these characters out more, and of course, add more bloody action, could in fact be viciously fun.